Don’t forget who Trump is
It is a truism that to get the American public onside, all a US president has to do is engage in a military stunt – justified or otherwise. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan harassed Latin American “enemies” and ordered a dramatic invasion of the tiny island of Grenada after a Stalinist coup. George Bush senior was gifted a war when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991. During his term, Bill Clinton had the opportunity to intervene in the Balkan and Somali conflicts. The September 11 2001 tragedy enabled George Bush junior to boost his flagging popularity by launching a war on the Taliban in Afghanistan, which contributed to his undeserved re-election in 2004. He also manufactured one of the biggest lies in modern political history to justify a war in Iraq.
Despite mysteriously winning the Nobel peace prize when he had hardly settled into his office, Barack Obama had to show his mettle with some military forays.
Having fulfilled his promise to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military interventions in Libya were enough to establish his credentials.
But the highlight of his tenure was the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks and the American public’s number one enemy.
Donald Trump, Obama’s bright orange successor, chalked up some points this week when – after just a few months in the White House – he got a chance to bark some commands. The bombing of a Syrian air force base – ostensibly in response to the Bashar al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on civilians – had many of his critics singing his praises.
Like a kid on a high after winning a video game, he followed that up with a giant bomb in Afghanistan.
Influential CNN presenter Fareed Zakaria drew scorn when he praised the Syria airstrikes, saying: “I think Donald Trump became president of the US last night. I think this was actually a big moment. For the first time really as president, he talked about international norms; international rules; about America’s role in enforcing justice in the world.”
Many reminded Zakaria of his famous proclamation that Trump had risen to the presidency by “bullsh**ting”.
The CNN man, who should know better, was apparently seduced by Trump’s vacuous postairstrike speech, in which he called on “all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types”.
“We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that, as long as America stands for justice, peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail. Good night, and God bless America and the entire world,” said Trump.
Zakaria was not alone in his opinion. Trump found favour among liberal media outlets, the very ones he has accused of disseminating “fake news” and of being “dishonest”. He got support from Democrats, who want him out of the White House as soon as yesterday. Analysts tripped over each other to give expert opinions about Trump’s “decisiveness” in a conflict Obama had been reluctant to engage in.
“America is back” was the narrative trotted out by those who were going orgasmic about the airstrikes, and who had been deluded by Trump’s tough talk against the “animal” and “evil” Assad.
How soon they forget. It was not that long ago that an occupant of the White House used fake intelligence to convince the public and the world about the need to go to war. Most of the world didn’t buy it, but the American public did.
Aided by gullible media, Bush, his cabinet and the security establishment created the case for the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam. Across the ocean, the British media ably questioned then prime minister Tony Blair and called him out on the lie. The British public joined in the scepticism. Hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets to oppose the war. With that war being the most unpopular in the nation’s history, Blair left office a shamed man. The Iraq war cost the two countries and the world dearly. The effect on the global economy was huge. The resultant political instability had global ramifications, including the Syrian conflict and a surge in international terrorism.
Now the American public is dropping its guard again. It is about to give a man who should be sedated and chained in an outside shed the right to start a military conflict. It would be a different story if Trump genuinely cared about the plight of Syrian civilians, or if there was a scientific process behind his thinking.
But his utterances before and in the days following the strikes show it was an instinctual decision with no strategic basis. It achieved its objective of buying him kudos and showing that he is not Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pet project. This may encourage him to take things further. The world should be worried.